Friendly Waters Ahead, Fabulous Fungi and Other Takeaways from the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show

So much vegan food to eat, so little more room in the belly…

Marla Rose

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Last year was my first visit to the National Restaurant Association Show and to say I was impressed is an understatement. I was like a kid in a candy store, a candy store full of vegan eggs with yolks that exploded into a bright yellow dribble when pierced, plant-based chick’n as far as the eye could see and a million (give or take a few) kinds of dairy-free soft-serve that had me swooning.

While the show is not dedicated exclusively to vegan options — it’s a general restaurant show, though the largest gathering of foodservice professionals in the United States — the diverse variety of vegan offerings is so vast, it really takes at least two dedicated, productive days on the floor to experience. Unsurprisingly, last year was not a fluke: There was even more to see and experience this year. Once again, I went for two days, though if I had the time, three days would have been more appropriate given the volume of options, which are generally clustered together but not always. Oh, well!

I think things are really looking up for vegan options in foodservice, not only variety but quality, especially reflecting in the plant-based fish and sea-life categories this year. Given the intense pressures our waterways and their inhabitants are under, there couldn’t be a more pressing time to encourage people to transition toward animal-free versions that don’t require fishing vessels, depleting the oceans, human exploitation and mass suffering.

The other star of the show for me was all the glorious mushroom love popping up everywhere. I am into all options for getting animals off the table but what thrilled me the most was all the potential coaxed out of our favorite fungi, with no shortage of creativity and ingenuity used to get the most meaty textures and umami-packed flavors.

Things are looking good. There is a lot to be excited about. Here’s a little recap, which is less of a recap and more of a highlights reel walking you through the show as I experienced it. (All photos credit my own damn self.)

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